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Georgia Court Refuses to Allow Tort Action for Employee Truck Accident

When individuals are involved in a car or truck accident, they can typically bring a tort action against another driver or a different defendant in order to recover compensation for their injuries. However, when a plaintiff was involved in the accident while on the job, additional workers’ compensation issues may arise. Under Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws, employees are required to provide compensation and coverage when their employees are injured during the course of normal work. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently considered whether an employee may bring a tort action to obtain such compensation when an employer fails to provide the requisite workers’ compensation coverage.

In Saxon v. Starr Indemnity & Liability Co., Saxon was employed as a delivery helper for Talmadge Royal, which delivered ice cream to convenience stores. Saxon was performing a delivery when the delivery driver rear-ended the vehicle in front of them, causing Saxon to suffer injuries. It was undisputed that Saxon was an employee of Royal and was performing within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. However, Royal did not have workers’ compensation for its employees, and Saxon could not file a workers’ compensation request. Instead, several months later, Saxon filed a negligence claim against the delivery driver and Royal. He argued that the delivery driver had acted negligently and that Royal had been negligent in hiring and supervising the driver. Royal’s insurers quickly intervened, as did Saxon’s own insurer because his policy provided uninsured motorist coverage. The insurers moved for summary judgment, arguing that their policies did not allow Saxon to recover from Royal for the accident because his sole remedy was workers’ compensation coverage. Saxon argued that if the court took the insurer’s position, he would be denied any remedy for his injuries, and this was against public policy. The trial court disagreed and granted summary judgment. Saxon appealed.

On appeal, Saxon reiterated his argument that it would be unfair to deny him his right to bring a tort claim in court because Royal did not provide him with the ability to make a workers’ compensation claim. The Appeals Court noted that under Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act, workers’ compensation benefits were provided in exchange for offering employers immunity from any other type of claim an employee might bring. Moreover, under the Act, even if an employer breaches its duty to provide workers’ compensation benefits, an employee may still apply to the state Workers’ Compensation Board in the event of an accident. However, here, Saxon did not apply to the state for the benefits that he was otherwise entitled to receive.

Thus, the Court concluded that Royal’s failure to set up a workers’ compensation plan did not mean that Saxon’s only remedy for his injuries was an auto accident lawsuit. Instead, he could have sought benefits from the state under the Act. Since the actual public policy behind the Act was meant to provide employees with workers’ compensation protection while limiting employer liability for lawsuits, the appeals court determined that the trial court’s decision was actually entirely consistent with public policy. Accordingly, it upheld the grant of summary judgment and denied Saxon the right to bring a tort claim against his employer for his truck accident.

If you have been injured in an automobile or truck accident while on the job, the path to recovery can be much more complicated than in a normal negligence claim. If the accident is determined to have occurred in the scope of your employment, Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws require you to seek workers’ compensation benefits for your injuries. If the accident occurred outside the scope of your employment, you may have a viable personal injury claim. Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury attorney with over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of another party’s negligence in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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